There are quite a few untranslatable Japanese words. “Genki” is one of them; it means “lively”, “energetic” and “full of beans”. I probably used it a dozen times a day when I lived in Japan (it’s how you ask and answer “how are you?”) but if I try the English equivalents I always sound like I’m being sarcastic – “Oh yeah, I’m full of beans today”.
Another that doesn’t really work as a single word in English is “ganbatte”, meaning “you can do it!”. For example :
Me: “I don’t think I can sing this song in front of hundreds of parents, teachers and students on culture day. I’ve only heard it once before, and I really can’t sing”
Music teacher: “Ganbatte!”
Side note: that scenario actually happened, and I was as bad as anticipated.
But the one that has been whirring around my brain the most in the last few months is “natsukashii”. If you look this up in a dictionary it will be defined as “nostalgia” – but that just doesn’t quite cut it. An exclamation of “natsukashii” can be prompted by ( but not limited to) a mouthful of comfort food that brings you right back to your childhood, a TV show/song/ in joke long forgotten and re-reading a book that blew your mind as a kid (and not letting the strong religious overtones ruin it for you as an adult).
Or returning to the city you went to university in ten years before.
A friend of a friend asked why we were returning to Nottingham for the ten-year anniversary of beginning university when the bulk of us live in London and actually see each other pretty regularly. The first response was “don’t be such a killjoy”, but I suppose a more thoughtful answer is that you can’t beat the memories evoked by physically being in a certain place.
The whole weekend was a self-indulgent trip down memory lane positively dripping with natsukashii. As we pulled into the train station we pronounced that we didn’t even remember how to get into town, until we exited the gates and realised that we actually did. Somehow it seemed crazy to us how familiar everything was – just like returning to your parental home after your first term at university it’s funny to you that nothing has changed when you have changed so much. It was a bittersweet moment.
Our halls of residence now and then
We had a good time catching up and visiting the few old favourite haunts that were still standing. However the real natsukashii moments were experienced the next day. We spent the afternoon visiting our old halls of residence and campus. We were in a positive frenzy of excitement posing like demented tourists for photos outside terraced houses we resided in that we hadn’t deemed photoworthy when we’d actually lived in them. We scared the poor student with our enthusiastic explanation of why we were taking photos of her house so much that she nervously backed up inside and we heard the audible clunk of bolts being drawn.
I don’t think this was all prompted by a wish to go back to those days, I think my brain would explode if it had to deal with all those hormones and roller-coaster of emotions. But I do believe a good bout of natsukashii is good for the soul. Wherever you are, it’s good (and intensely enjoyable) to remember how you got there.